COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (ST) — With the famed 14,000-foot Pikes Peak looming in the background, Colorado Springs would seem an ideal venue for the USA Cycling 24-Hour Mountain Bike National Championships. What is most surprising about this year’s event, however, was that it wasn’t in the local mountains that lie in the shadow of Pikes Peak; it was held in a city park. But Palmer Park is no ordinary playground for toddlers.
The park, located not far from the Garden of the Gods, the site of the USA Cycling Pro Challenge prologue last month, boasts miles of technical rocky singletrack, stiff climbs, and some extremely tricky sand sections that made for one of the most difficult 24-hour courses in recent memory.
There were hundreds of fans, friends, and family who braved the overnight chilly weather to watch the field of 230 riders. Race director Tim Scott said the “course lends itself to a pretty fit rider, but it’s not the ultimate climber’s course either—they’re working their entire bodies.”
Breckenridge, Colorado’s Josh Tostado took the men’s title for the third time, completing 18 laps of the 13.2-mile course in 22:12:21, just a minute and a half over second-place Nate Ginzton.
What the results sheet doesn’t show, however, is that Tostado actually finished 90 minutes ahead of Ginzton, but elected not to finish a 19th lap, betting that Ginzton would not be able to erase his substantial lead. Jonathan Davis finished third with 18 laps at 23:50:57.
Speaking to the quality of the elite field, and to a couple of prominent no-shows due to illness, Tostado said “it was a bummer that Tinker (Juarez) and Kelly (Magelky) weren’t here, but I’m glad I was able to do the race and the guys that were here were strong — I was being pushed the whole time.”
Tostado was able to maintain his lead despite two rather philanthropic moves on the course. On the same lap, at about 3:00 am, Tostado stopped to help another rider change a flat, donating his Co2 cartridge; he later stopped to donate his handlebar light to women’s overall solo winner Pua Mata, whose light had burned out.
“I come across Pua with no lights, at about 3:00am. She was pretty down in the dumps, and I told her to take my handlebar light, ‘here just take it’ I said; and we got her going again. It’s always nice when you can help people out” said Tostado.
Mata (Sho-Air-Specialized) dominated the women’s solo field, completing 15 laps in 22:34:57, while second place KT Desantis managed 13 laps, and was over an hour behind. Laureen Coffelt finished up in third, with 13 laps in 23:37:21.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Mata.
“The course was actually a lot of fun, but for that many hours straight, it gets rough. There was a point in the night when you’re just begging the sun to come out,” Mata said.
She was not sure until a few weeks before whether she was going to race.
“I haven’t done one [a 24-hour race] in two years, and I’ve had a lot of issues in the past couple. Then I thought about it, and I came off the marathon national championships, and I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. This is probably one of the hardest 24s I’ve ever done.”
Evan Plews took the men’s solo singlespeed field with 18 laps in 23:02:55. His thoughts about the difficulty of the course echo those of other riders: “I can’t even imagine setting up a course like that—I’d be afraid someone would die out there” he said.
The women’s open 4-person team category was dominated by the SRAM dream-team of Jenny Smith, Kelli Boniface, Sonya Looney, and Rebecca Rusch, winner of this year’s Leadville 100.
“The course was really hard, but super fun; you’re having a good time out there, but for 24-hours and especially for the soloists, it was brutal. There’s just never a time to rest, it’s on the whole time” Rusch said.
Boulderite Sonya Looney (Topeak-Ergon) seemed to really enjoy herself on the course and sang the praises for her team.
“We were all pushing each other because none of us wanted to be the weak link. It was really positive. It was the most fun I’ve ever had at a 24-hour race.” The team completed 20 laps in 23:32:08, besting second-placed WMBA of Colorado Springs by three full laps.
Part of the proceeds of the race will be donated to the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization to raise awareness for wounded American soldiers.
“In this town, with five military bases, we are affected by war. I don’t know of many people who aren’t at least one person removed from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s a privilege to get to interact with the community like that,” Tim Scott explained.